"Quartet": The Kindler, Gentler Aging Movie

For Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, Ronald Harwood adapts his own play about an English retirement home for esteemed musicians. The resulting quasi-farce gathers Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, and Maggie Smith in a mellow ensemble display of good acting and deconstructed diva-ego. A certain Hoffmanesque warmth and wiliness permeates the proceedings, and a sentimental affinity for the performer's life, including the intangibles of grudging backstage whisper-gossip, brokenhearted reminiscences, and lamented lost minds and loves. There's also a brief and surprisingly unembarrassing multigenerational dialogue on the common ground between opera and rap. More a comfort than a challenge, the movie has a sort of raggedness that might require some acclimation but also helps offset the canned quality of its getting-the-band-back-together scenario, a tense reunion for the home's annual Verdi-venerating revue. The cast is rounded out by Michael Gambon as a pompous choirmaster and Sheridan Smith as a tolerant staff doctor, to whom Harwood and Hoffman's all-inclusive fondness very easily extends. If you're wanting an old-folks film and worried that Amour looks too posh or too heavy, this might be the one to catch instead.

 
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